Book conversation: Primo Levi, The
Book conversation: Primo Levi, The Friend by Bianca Guidetti Serra (CPL Editions, 2015)
Opening remarks: Giorgio Van Straten (Italian Cultural Institute)
Guri Schwarz (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa), Alessandro Cassin (Centro Primo Levi), Stella Levi (Centro Primo Levi) will read excerpts from the book.
A presentation of Primo Levi, The Friend, by Bianca Guidetti Serrra (CPL Editions 2014) offers the opportunity to delve deeper into more personal and intimate sides of Levi’s biography: his decades long friendship with Bianca Guidetti Serra and a close-knit group of friends, against the backdrop of Piedmontese antifascism.
Primo Levi’s formative years in Turin among a group of mostly Jewish young men and women were marked by shared intellectual passions and resolute antifascism. Up until September 10, when the Nazi troops of the “Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler” brigade entered Turin, the city had been a beacon of antifascist resistance.
Trough Alberto Salmoni, whom she later married, Bianca Guidetti became close with Turin’s Jewish youth, ousted from public life after the racial laws of 1938: Primo Levi, Franco Momigliano, Silvio Ortona, Ada Della Torre, Luciana Nissim and Vanda Maestro.
In fact, Bianca’s first act of resistance, with Franco Momigliano and Eugenio Gentili Tedeschi, was prompted by the campaign against the Jews: they ripped antisemitic posters off the walls of Via Roma.
Through the crucial phases of his arrest, deportation and long journey back to freedom and beyond, Primo kept an unbroken dialogue with Bianca, making her primary witness to his life trajectory.
Bianca Guidetti Serra graduated from Law School in 1943. Working closely with Ada Gobetti, during the war years she became a reference for her Jewish friends in hiding. She also organized groups for the protection of women and the assistance to freedom fighters. After the Liberation, Bianca continued her political and professional commitment assisting workers in factories. In 1949 she supported farmers’ civil rights battles in southern Italy. One of her most successful actions was the campaign against FIAT workers’ political profiling in the 1970s. She was elected in several positions for Turin’s City Council and the Italian Parliament. Throughout her life, Bianca Guidetti Serra remained an independent advocate of civil rights fighting for the protection of women, children, prisoners and workers.
“I also want to mention here Primo the man, in his everyday life, the one who pushed many of us to seek him out, to talk, to communicate with him about the important things. Hence the endless conversations in his living room, the very room where he was born; but above all, the long walks in the mountains and hills – which became shorter over the years, but remained our favorite occasions for exchanging experiences and thoughts.
Many of us have kept memorable images from these walks.
Primo, smiling, following with his index finger the groove traced by a small burrowing caterpillar on the bark of a tree; Primo, reaching out to pick a berry, wondering to what species it belonged, touching and sniffing it, opening it, tasting a small bite and beginning to venture hypotheses; Primo, bending down to collect a balled-up mixture of branches, feathers and small bones, crumbling them between his thumb and forefinger and saying: “This is the regurgitation of an animal that has devoured a bird”; Primo, teasing and rerouting with a stick the pine moths’ procession across the road and describing its customs to us.”
From Primo Levi, The Friend by Bianca Guidetti Serra